What Is Opportunity Cost?

Written by True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

Reviewed by Editorial Team

Updated on March 05, 2023

Opportunity Cost Definition

Opportunity cost is the implicit cost incurred by missing out on an investment, either with one's time or money.

Because resources are finite, investing in one opportunity causes another opportunity to be forgone.

Example of Opportunity Cost

Company ChooseRight assesses an investment in a $100,000 machine that will net a profit of $150,000 over its useful lifetime of 10 years.

In isolation, the investment is perceived to be wise because it nets a positive return.

However, before finalizing the investment in the new machinery, company ChooseRight estimates the opportunity cost if the funds were invested elsewhere.

They estimate a $200,000 return over the next 10 years by investing in an employee training program, expanding the marketing budget, and upgrading an outdated payroll system.

Company ChooseRight therefore decides that although the investment in new machinery would return a profit, the opportunity cost of the investment suggests that the funds should be invested elsewhere.

Informing Decisions With Opportunity Cost

Businesses often establish a minimum internal rate of return, or IRR, based on historical and future opportunity costs.

Future estimated cash flows are discounted by a company's IRR to calculate the net present value of an investment.

If the net present value of an investment is positive, the estimated return is greater than its opportunity cost.

Therefore, a positive net present value suggests funds invested in this opportunity provide a return greater than if the funds were invested elsewhere.

Opportunity cost can be used to inform any decision, from investing in a security to what leisure activities one does during their free time.

Opportunity Cost FAQs

About the Author

True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

True Tamplin is a published author, public speaker, CEO of UpDigital, and founder of Finance Strategists.

True is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®), author of The Handy Financial Ratios Guide, a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, contributes to his financial education site, Finance Strategists, and has spoken to various financial communities such as the CFA Institute, as well as university students like his Alma mater, Biola University, where he received a bachelor of science in business and data analytics.

To learn more about True, visit his personal website, view his author profile on Amazon, or check out his speaker profile on the CFA Institute website.

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